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Learn the drill

Uncovering the causes of certain behaviour can be the first step towards helping pupils simply enjoy school, reveals Victoria Dickson. Early Bird Plus" is a training programme run by the National Autistic Society, an extension of "Early Bird", which is aimed at parents of pre- school children with autism. The new version is for children diagnosed later on and addresses the needs of home and school. A class teacher or a special needs co-ordinator joins the parents for the sessions. This creates a greater consistency for the child between both environments.

The course uses the "autism iceberg" approach, seeking the underlying reasons why particular behaviour occurs. This provides a more effective solution for management, rather than just dealing with behaviour that is apparent. For example, if a child becomes aggressive and has temper tantrums at playtime, the visible behaviours are spitting, kicking, biting and hitting.

The underlying factors causing this behaviour, however, can be due to noise sensitivity, frustration at inability to communicate effectively with friends, dislike of other children invading personal space or being unaware of the social rules of the playground.

One technique is reducing language. Instead of saying to a child: "We are going to go into assembly and after that it will be playtime", issue the simple instruction: "First assembly, then playtime". You can accompany this by providing two pictures signifying assembly and playtime. After sufficient time has been given for the child to process the information, the instruction can be repeated again.

When I attended the course two years ago, one of my Year 1 pupils had various sensory sensitivities. He would not participate in messy activities and was afraid of certain noises such as motorbikes or drilling.

I learned the "first and then" structure - a short burst of a feared activity followed by something familiar or rewarding. This would be repeated, with the feared activity taking longer. Two years on, he has come a long way and there is no activity he will not participate in. We countered his noise phobia by drawing a picture of what made the sound, like a passing motorbike, to help him understand what it was and where it had come from.

Life in school is unpredictable but simple stick pencil drawings can be quickly drawn on these occasions that provide comfort - works of art are honestly not necessary.

Victoria Dickson is a foundation stage teacher and Senco at Holy Trinity Church of England Primary in Ossett, West Yorkshire.

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